Wayne Co. tax foreclosure evictions begin

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Families who sued Wayne County and several suburban cities last year over what they called illegal tax foreclosures are now being evicted after losing several court cases.

Among them is a Lincoln Park woman who says she lost nearly all her belongings Friday, when she was evicted her from her home while she was at work. Her attorney, Tarek Baydoun, said she should have been notified that a court hearing was held to issue an eviction order and that once it was posted, she should have had 24 hours’ notice to leave.

“The feeling is like you are totally broken,” said Brandy Gutierrez, 32, who added she found her locks changed and a mound of her possessions on the curb.

She is among the 18 families who sued the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office in December in U.S. District Court to stop their evictions. They allege they didn’t receive foreclosure notices and in some cases were told by county officials they had more time to save their properties. The county sold the homes to suburban communities, including Lincoln Park and Garden City, which resold them to developers to fix.

Treasurer Eric Sabree maintained his office followed the law and that many homeowners were foreclosed when they missed payments.

The evictions were on hold while courts considered the cases. U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy dismissed the case in September in part because she said she didn’t have jurisdiction. Separately, several Wayne County judges upheld the evictions.

At least four of the 18 have been evicted, said Baydoun, who represents the families and is appealing Levy’s ruling.

Gutierrez said she went to her part-time job at a roofing company Friday about 6 a.m. When she returned about 8 p.m., she said the house had new locks, piles of her belongings were at the curb and an eviction notice was on the door. She said she did not see any notice when she left for work.

She said she’s missing most of her belongings including dozens of power tools, jewelry and about $800 in cash.

“I don’t even have a bed sheet to give my kids,” said Gutierrez, who sent her two children to live with their grandmother months ago while the home was in limbo.

An attorney for Warren-based JSR Funding, which bought the homes from Lincoln Park, said the eviction was the “result of years of non-payment of taxes.”

“We are very confused by her claim that she was surprised by the eviction because surely her attorney should have advised her as to the legal significance of losing an appeal to set aside a court ordered eviction,” Tony Taweel wrote in an email.

Officials with the 25th District Court in Lincoln Park didn’t return calls for comment. Evictions are initiated by property owners but are enforced by court officers.

Gutierrez said she fell behind on taxes because her estranged husband never told her he wasn’t paying until the unpaid bill accumulated to nearly $12,000. She borrowed money to pay about $8,000 in December 2014 and got on a repayment plan.

County officials said they foreclosed when she fell behind on those payments.

Gutierrez contends she didn’t get foreclosure notices. County staffers told her she was caught up enough to avoid foreclosure, she said, and had until December to pay. She went to the city with a $4,000 cashier’s check, but it was too late. The home was mortgage free.

Gutierrez said she is now living out of her car, sleeping at work or her sister’s couch.

Another Lincoln Park homeowner, 38-year-old Tim Padden, said he got an eviction notice Friday but was given until Monday to move out by a court officer. Padden also said he thought he had more time to pay, didn’t get foreclosure notices and was given bad information by county staffers that he had more time.

“We’ve been in that house for 14 years,” said Padden. “The city (of Lincoln Park) should have notified us. That would have been the right thing to do.”

The family of four, with two teenage sons, is now living apart at the homes of friends and family.

Allegations of botched foreclosure notices aren’t new to the county.

State law requires officials to reach out to anyone with possible interest in the properties when it is headed to foreclosure — through First-Class and certified letters, newspaper notices and personal property visits, including posted notices if no one is home.

The Detroit News obtained records of certified mailings through the Freedom of Information Act and sampled 1,000 of the 333,000 sent by one contractor in late 2014. More than half were still listed in the U.S. post office's tracking system as “in transit,” The News found.

County officials acknowledged they haven’t always received proof from the post office that a person signed for the letter or that delivery was attempted, but said there was no evidence the post office didn’t try to deliver the letters.

Family of both Padden and Gutierrez have set up online fundraising sites to help pay for their relocation.